This month, the Health Fund is opening its second funding cycle for the Community Health Impact (CHI) Initiative. The program is designed to help ensure that communities and people with lived experience of health issues are influencing resources created to serve them. This blog post digs into the CHI program’s purpose and priorities and offers guidance to those interested in submitting a competitive application.  

Starting in 2021, the Health Fund began evolving the CHI program to more intentionally encourage and support community voice, input, and decision-making in health-focused programs. Since then, the Health Fund has invested nearly $9 million in grant funding to support 93 CHI projects. The explicit purpose of these grants is to empower communities to solve their most pressing health issues and successfully implement health-focused, community-driven interventions.

In the past three years, we’ve received a large number of outstanding applications to the CHI program from health-focused grassroots organizations, neighborhood groups, small- to medium-sized nonprofits, and others. The strongest and most compelling projects did the following:

  • Aligned with the program’s strategy to elevate community voice in the development or refinement of health-related programming;
  • Directly tied proposed activities of the grant with the outcomes identified by the Health Fund (found here); and
  • Clearly explained their focus and approach to eliminate health disparities, improve health equity, build community wellness, increase social integration for marginalized populations, bolster community support systems, and expand health-related community engagement efforts.

Incorporating community voice

Looking at the full body of CHI projects over the last three years, we see that funded proposals prioritize community voice in two main ways.

The first is that applicant organizations engage those with lived experience to develop programming before applying for funding. This often occurs through community conversations, co-programming development with community members, and surveys, among other engagement efforts.

The second is that the grant application asks for funding to strengthen an organization or collaborative’s ability to engage the community for program development. Here’s are two examples of funded projects that employ both ways of using community engagement:

In 2023, Partial to Girls was funded to engage young girls in a feedback process to develop stronger programs that fit their needs. These grant funds were used to implement the Transparency Project, a mentoring project informed by lived experience, to engage 20 girls aged 12 to 17 in Jackson’s Black and low-income neighborhoods. The topics of the program — education, mental health, and healthy relationships — are meant to improve self-esteem, social connections, and long-term health outcomes.

Feedback from the girls informed the program and outcome development. The project proposal highlighted alignment with the CHI RFP’s identified outcomes to integrate and implement Partial to Girls’ ability to engage with community by improving their participatory evaluation activities. The proposal also indicated that their participants would have improved pre-cursers to health outcomes such as improved self-esteem and social connections.

Meanwhile, a CHI grant to A Brighter Way highlights how a pilot project can embed community voice throughout its design and implementation through repeated interactions between medical providers, mentors, and participants.

In our first cycle for 2024, A Brighter Way received a grant to engage returning citizens and their peer navigators (also returning citizens) to improve health outcomes and quality of life by reducing the gap in integrated health care for formerly incarcerated individuals in Washtenaw County.

Partnered with Packard Health, University of Michigan medical students, We the People Opportunity Farm, and other community organizations, A Brighter Way is well positioned to reduce the health disparities faced by formerly incarcerated individuals. With this grant, A Brighter Way‘s peer navigators will educate and connect returning citizens to health care services tailored to their individual needs, help address the social determinants of health — such as lack of access to healthy food and transportation — and provide education to practicing and in-training health care professionals to improve care for this population. A continuous process of feedback and engagement among these different groups of stakeholders is being developed and implemented throughout the project.

Resources for engagement

Like the examples above, a successful proposal will clearly outline how community was engaged prior to application and/or how your organization plans to elevate community voice to improve health or address social determinants of health.

To learn more about how to incorporate an effective community engagement plan into your CHI proposal and for other programming, please check out this planning tool, a completed sample, and a related video explaining the tool’s use. For more information on our CHI initiative, please visit the CHI program webpage.

This post was developed by Liz Delaney, a consultant who has worked with grantees and Health Fund staff to create evaluation outcomes for our CHI program.

With a flair for turning the mundane into the magnificent, Liz Delaney is on a mission to revitalize tired, outmoded evaluation practices wherever she finds them. She has worked with the Health Fund since 2018 to assist with strategy development, evaluation capacity building, and evaluation.


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